The coral communities of Yongle atoll: Status, threats and conservation significance for coral reefs in South China Sea
Xisha Islands are in the central South China Sea and form one of the four large island groups in this region. They include more than 40 islands, reefs and cays, and have considerable ecological and biodiversity value, both intrinsically and as a source of larvae for coastal ecosystems throughout the South China Sea. Yongle atoll is the biggest and one of the most important atolls in the Xisha Islands. The detailed surveys of the marine habitats in the Yongle atoll were conducted from June to July 2013. This baseline survey revealed coral communities in a relatively healthy condition. Mean coral cover of different geomorphic habitats varied from 2 to 29%. Branching corals were most important, followed by encrusting and massive growth forms (48, 29 and 17% of coral cover). Pocillopora (29% of total cover in line transects), Porites (19%), Acropora (17%) and Montipora (16%) were the four dominant genera. Communities differentiated into four clusters, namely, lower reef slope, upper reef slope, outer reef flat, and inner reef flat and lagoon slope. This baseline investigation highlighted the ecological value of these reefs. Destructive fishing and overfishing are presently the most serious threats for these coral reefs. They should receive much more scientific and conservation attention.